Burton, Richard (7 of 10). National Life Story Collection: Architects' Lives
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2014-02-01, 2014-02-08, 2014-02-09, 2014-02-15, 2014-02-16, 2015-09-10
Interviewee's home, London
Burton, Richard, 1933-2017 (speaker, male)
Franklin, Geraint (speaker, male)
Part 7: [Session four: 15 February 2014] Description of ABK project at Hooke Parke, Dorset, initiated by John Makepeace around 1984. John Makepeace and his wife [Ann Sutton] [AS] made furniture for Templeton College and Keble College, Oxford. Chosen by clients. JM and AS started furniture-making school at Parnham House, Dorset [in 1976]. Story of how RB’s sons Bim [David] and Mark Burton came to study there. JM’s interest in making furniture from waste wood. Wooded site at Hooke Parke acquired from Forestry Commission with assistance of Neil Elliot, agent to Duke of Devonshire. 350 acre site. Discussions between JM, RB, and Julian Keable, an architect, about furniture school using thinnings from forest. [00:11:03] RB became architect for Parnham Trust in Hooke. Masterplan devised around 1984. RB set up team including Frei Otto [FO] and Ted Happold [TH]. Description of TH; his role in Pompidou Centre whilst at Ove Arup & Partners. ABK’s work with Buro Happold on project for British Telecom headquarters at Milton Keynes. FO and TH’s work on Mannheim [Multihalle]. FO worked with locally-based architects on projects. [00:17:23] Design and construction of prototype house in the summer of 1985; site architect Bill Moorwood of ABK. Development work with FO and TH; FO’s use of model making; his sketchbook of ideas. [00:21:51] Description of structural use of thinnings, in tension for curved roof of prototype building and in compression for domed roof of workshop building. ABK office did construction drawings with Buro Happold. FO’s preference for binding timbers; TH’s development of a tension joint. Description of stepped joint with steel rod and epoxy resin. [Cough at 00:27:04] Both tested at Bath University. [00:28:14] Story of meeting of RB, FO and TH at hotel in Leonberg near Stuttgart. Mentions development work into the use of thinnings for flat floors. Death of TH [in 1996]. [00:34:06] Description of design of workshop/school building. Role of plastic skin in cross bracing structure; ventilation of building using inflatable tubes. Ted Cullinan later designed a student residence [Westminster Lodge] on the site. [00:39:08] Financial problems of Parnham Trust and departure of JM. RB’s role in sale of Hooke Park to AA. [00:44:40 break in recording]. Mentions AA’s practical courses for residential students; contrast with RB’s education at AA. [00:46:57] Comments on relationship between designing and making. AA’s Design & Make graduate course. Description of new buildings, including new workshop, lodge, caretakers’ building and timber-seasoning shelter. [00:54:20] Comments on sustainable aspect of Hooke Park and combination of high and low technologies. [00:56:03] Lack of work after the Prince of Wales’ [PoW] criticism of ABK’s design for National Gallery Extension. Major jobs during this time Isle of Wight hospital and John Lewis store in Kingston. Financial provisions made by partners. PA became Professor of Architecture at the Bartlett [School of Architecture]. ABK’s work in Ireland from 1980s. [00:59:16] Comments on design of Trinity College Dublin Library. Second partner allocated to each ABK project as ‘backup’; example of Redcar Library. [01:03:38] Reflections on achievements of ABK. Remarks on Chalvedon housing in Basildon; PE’s work at briefing stage and how client consultation was incorporated in to subsequent projects. [01:07:23] RB’s reluctance to discuss different approaches of three partners. Partners shared single design studio, and consulted each other on projects and office policy. Political views of RB, PA and PK. [01:13:05] Description of structure of ABK office. Senior assistants worked closely with partners on projects. RB worked with Graham Anthony, subsequently senior partner in [Sheppard Robson]. Tendency for senior employees to move on eventually; partners wanted to retain design control and avoid significant expansion of practice. A tier of directors eventually implemented below three partners; directors ran big projects. Eventual company status of ABK. RB refers to staff names in endpapers of ‘Collaborations’ book. An exciting office. [01:22:03] British Embassy in Moscow a long process. ABK placed on shortlist for interview, along with Foster [Associates] and Arup Associates in 1987. Winning the commission was crucial to the practice; lack of work in England as a result of the PoW’s intervention. RB and PA interviewed in the Foreign Office by Mark Bertram, then chief architect to Foreign Office and an ex-Ambassador; subsequently asked to submit report. Visited many embassies, including Basil Spence’s embassy in Rome. Unsuitability of old British embassy [Kharitonenko mansion] in Moscow. Mentions meeting Arups engineer who surveyed 13 potential sites for new embassy in early 1960s. [01:29:58] Site a former market for timber building products. Refers to family house in Moscow, now a metro station. [01:31:20] RB’s family connections to Russia scrutinised by British security services. Anecdote about architect for the American embassy in Moscow working for KGB. All ABK staff involved subjected to security clearance. Story of break-in and bugging of telephone at RB’s house in 1987. [01:40:11] Story of Moscow trip in early 1988; interception of architectural drawings at Ukraine Hotel. [01:45:58] Interest of [Prime Minister] Margaret Thatcher in project and her appointment of Duke of Gloucester as chairman of [panel of judges]. [01:47:38 brief break in recording] Description of accommodation necessary in an embassy and role of ambassadors. Moscow Embassy as ‘hardship post’; restriction on travel for embassy staff. Feeling of being observed. [01:53:15] Foreign Office staff at Croydon consulted in briefing. Mentions assistants Jeremy Peacock and later Patrick Stubbings and John Hermsen. Description of initial scheme, with curved timber roof designed by Martin [Manning] of Ove Arup & Partners. Plan to transport building materials from UK, to be assembled by Royal Engineers. [01:59:53] Description of presentation of scheme to Moscow city planners; use of large scale model of city; approval by chief architect, [Leonid] Vavakin. Under-provision of offices in brief. Great rise in visas and passports issued after 1990. [02:06:43] Instructed to redesign scheme: re-briefed in 1992 by Andrew Wood, later Ambassador to Russia. New scheme to be less expensive, less security, and flats to river frontage. Necessity to amend planning permission; could build higher. Wanted to avoid monolithic building; developed idea of series of buildings with gaps between. Views through from river to Arbat district. [02:12:50] Description of final scheme; separation of flats from high security areas. [02:17:14] Presentation of model to Duke of Gloucester. RB speculates that Gloucester was appointed by Margaret Thatcher at suggestion of Foreign Office to ‘shelter’ scheme from PoW. Support of Foreign Office for the new scheme. Large visa and commercial sections; regret that British Council not relocated. Compares embassies with university buildings. [02:26:50] Lower cost of final scheme achieved by omission of basements and use of reinforced concrete frame. Abandonment of plan to transport prefabricated components from UK. Laminated timber roofs make connection with history of site and Moscow vernacular. Remarks on provisions in design for security and energy conservation. [01:34:55] Story about installation of listening device. Site periodically photographed by helicopter. Use of yellow stone, grey granite and ‘poetry panels’. Embassies have to be protected yet open. Importance of natural light. [02:44:36] Remarks on female labourers in former Soviet Union, engaged in heavy work. Embassy on site 1996 to 2000: 800 construction workers on project; half women, by this time employed in lighter work. Mentions ABK job architect Hugh Morgan. Anecdote about female construction worker’s change of clothes. Drunkenness a problem in Russia. Remarks on repression of women in some countries. Changes in Russian society between 1980s and 1990s. Remarks on Moscow hotels. [02:57:30] Protracted negotiations with planners and mayor [Yury] Luzhkov for final scheme. Remarks on bribery in planning system. Story of meeting with chief planner. Success of design.
Life story interview with Richard Burton (1933-2017), architect.